Things to see
Asian tourists have long discovered South Korea as a prime shopping, culinary and sight seeing destination. For the western world, it is a relatively new travel destination, but it has gained popularity fast. And for good reason, as South Korea offers a most pleasant combination of ancient Asian features and all the amenities you would expect from a modern, high-tech nation. Despite its compact size it boasts a broad range of fine attractions and an excellent infrastructure makes getting around easy.
- Seoul Most journeys begin in the nation's capital that never sleeps. This ancient place has seen centuries and wars come and go but seems to have come out stronger than ever. Popularly called the "Miracle on the Han River", it's one of the largest metropolitan economies in the world. It's the country's industrial epicentre, the birthplace of K-pop, a hotspot for South-Korean nightlife and fine dining and home to countless museums. The fabulous history and art collection of the National Museum of Korea (국립중앙박물관) reigns supreme and a visit there is a day well spent. In recent years, the city is rediscovering its historic treasures and improving city parks, adding to its charm. Downtown Seoul, where the old Joseon Dynasty city was, is where you'll find most of the palaces, Gyeongbokgung (경복궁), Changdeokgung (창덕궁) and Gwanghwamun (광화문). It is surrounded by a Fortress Wall, with the famous Namdaemun, one of the eight gates, being perhaps the main attraction. The Banpo bridge (반포대교) turns into beautiful colours at night, and the Yeouido Island (여의도), apart from the famous 63 Building has splendid parks for rollerblading/biking. Other sights are the Secret Garden (비원), Seodaemun (서대문), or the Seoul Tower (서울타워) accompanied by the famous Teddy Bear Museum. To get away from the buzz, follow the locals to Cheonggyecheon (청계천), one of the urban renewal projects and a popular public recreation space, or enjoy an afternoon tea in a traditional teahouse in Insadong.
- Busan is the country's second city and most significant port. Called the nation's summer capital, Koreans flock to this city's fine beaches, seafood restaurants and festivals. Haeundae beach (해운대) in Busan is the most famous in the country, with an atmosphere is comparable to southern France or California in the summer.
- Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) On July 27th 1953, The Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) was established as a cease-fire agreement with a boundary area of 2km between North and South Koreas. Panmunjeom aka Joint Security Area (JSA) is the ‘truce village’ of the DMZ where tourists can view North and South Korea without much hostility. Here you can also enter one of the buildings that are located on the border aka Military Demarcation Line (MDL), which means you can actually cross into the North when entering those buildings. The border is indicated by a line where North and South Korean soldiers face each other coldly. The tour includes the nearby bridge of no return that used to be the main controlled crossing point between the countries. Also, the Third Tunnel of Aggression, created by North Korea (1.7 km long, 2 m high and about 73m below ground), was discovered in 1978. This tunnel is not more than an hour or 44km away from Seoul.
- Bukhansan is just a stone's throw north of Seoul and one of the most visited national parks in the world. Some 836 meters high, Mount Bukhansan is a major landmark visible from large parts of the city and the park is home to the beautiful Bukhansanseong Fortress. The popular hike to get up there is well worth it, as you'll be rewarded with great views of the metropolis. Seoraksan National Parkand Suncheon Bay Ecological Park are good picks too. In total, the country has 20 national parks, mostly mountainous, but some also focus on marine and coastal nature. The lush green tea fields of Boseong offer quite another, but equally nice and peaceful get-a-way.
- Jeju Island If you don't mind the crowds, this volcanic and semi-tropical island offers a spectacular scenery and numerous natural sights, a relaxing and warm (especially in winter) atmosphere and plenty of activities. Don't miss the Lava tubes, Seongsan Ilchubong, Loveland, and South Korea's highest mountain Hallasan (1,950 m).
- Gochang, Hwasun and Ganghwa Dolmen Sites is a World Heritage and home to a significant part of all the dolmen in the world. Apart from the impressive megalithic stones, it has brought forward a highly important collection of archaeological finds.
- Gyeongju Once the nation's capital, it boasts numerous royal burial and World Heritage cultural sites, as well as relaxing resorts.
- Folk villages If you'd like to see a bit of Korean folklore, Hahoe Folk Village near Andong, Yangdong, the living museum-like Korean Folk Village in Yongin or Hanok Village in Jeonju are among the best.
- Festivals Korea is a country of festivals'. No matter where you go, there's likely something happening close by. Watching or even joining in the bustling celebrations is often a fabulous and colourful experience. The Boryeong Mud Festival (보령머드축제) is a popular pick, when participants drench themselves in mud and take part in everything from mud wrestling to body painting. The nearby beach becomes something of a party apocalypse.